Italy will proceed with the hardline policy on migration despite the harsh criticism of Paris for denying entry to migrant rescue ship Aquarius, Paolo Grimoldi, a secretary for the Lega party in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, said in an interview on Wednesday.

“The EU got used to the idea that Italy was accepting a hard burden of migration on behalf of Europe. They will attack us, they will criticize us but we are supported by Austria and Eastern Europe. We will not change our plan to curb illegal migration regardless of what Paris says,” Grimoldi said.

The politician noted that it was hypocritical for Macron to criticize Italy for not accepting refugees after France had imposed strict controls at the border with Italy and refused to accept thousands of migrants who should have been relocated to France over the past three years.

Gianluca Savoini, the president of the Lombardia-Russia Cultural Association, welcomed cooperation aimed at the reduction of illegal migration in Europe, proposed by some EU members.

“After years during which the Italian government has abandoned interests of the Italian people, we finally have a new government that cares and I see that Austria and Hungary thank [Italian Interior Minister] Matteo Salvini for his policies. Even the German interior minister is ready to meet with him and coordinate a common policy on migration,” Savoini stated.

Earlier in the day, the Italian foreign minister summoned French Ambassador to Italy Christian Masset after French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy of “cynicism and irresponsibility” for refusing entry to the humanitarian ship stranded in international waters with 629 migrants on board. The vessel was turned away by both Italy and nearby Malta but later welcomed by Spain.

Several hours later, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that Vienna, Berlin and Rome intended to work together to tackle the problem of illegal migration, adding that such regional cooperation was justified because immigrants often arrived in Austria through Italy and, if unwilling to settle there, then went on to Germany. 

Italy’s new coalition government is pursuing a hardline policy on migration, as Europe is struggling to negotiate refugee quotas and a common European framework to share responsibility for migrant arrivals. In early June, Salvini said that Italy could not remain Europe’s “refugee camp” while neighboring countries close their borders and defend their frontiers with weapons.

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